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Beasts of the Southern Wild: movie review

Director Benh Zeitlin can't seem to get a visual rhythm going in 'Beasts.'

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'Beasts of the Southern Wild' is an ungainly mix of harsh realism and magical realism.

Mary Cybulski/Fox Searchlight Pictures/AP

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Much film festival praise has been showered on “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and I wish I could join in. But this movie about a ragamuffin 6-year-old girl, Hushpuppy (spunky Quvenzhané Wallis), her messed-up father, Wink (Dwight Henry), and the southern Louisiana swampland they inhabit kept reminding me of movies I wish I had been watching instead (like Robert Flaherty’s “Louisiana Story”).

Director Benh Zeitlin, working from a script by Lucy Alibar adapted from her stage play “Juicy and Delicious,” can’t seem to get a visual rhythm going. He mixes harsh realism with (unmagical) magical realism; and the results are often ungainly, especially when he stages an attack by giant boarlike creatures. (I wanted to quip: “Where the Wild Things Aren’t.”) The endangered swampland dwellers are supposed to be an indigenous pastoral community threatened by eco-unfriendly oil refineries. I kept rooting for Hushpuppy and Co. to leave behind their squalor and relocate. This is not the politically correct response. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality.)

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